As a 17 year old Latvian student, who is interested in working in the fashion industry eventually, I have noticed some trends and, disappointingly, also problems with the current situation in terms of fashion business. This article will mainly consist of arguments and conclusions I have come to whilst writing a scientific research paper closely related to this subject. To take a closer look at the main business aspects of what makes up the industry, my main sources of information come from interviews with designers and label owners, analysing fashion literature and available media publishings on the subject, as well as conducting a survey in which I study the median Latvian customers buying habits.
Historically, Riga has been one of the centres for fashion, when we were a part of the USSR. Rīgas Modes a fashion house and magazine, that was published both in Latvian and Russian, are staples for creating a foundation for success. As the Soviet Union fell, unlike our neighbouring Baltic countries, we did not continue to grow and use our accomplishments to our advantage. We go on to be in the last place in the Baltic, while the sister nations have multiple manufacturing centres, meaning highly advanced industrial development, and Estonia has a brand [Ivo Nikkolo] whose name carries 18 stores worldwide. To triumph this level of progress quickly seems inconceivable within the next following years. Designers manufacture their clothing either through ordering it to be sewn abroad, or in very small workshops with only 5 sewing machines and 1 overlock. And here is where the first problem arises from a purely technical stance; the fashion industry is unable to progress if it has not reached a certain level of seriousness at just the pure foundation, meaning the lack of highly functional clothing production establishments.
Attempting to figure out whether the Latvian fashion industry has had any growth within the last 20 years can be troubling. Looking from a nationwide perspective, things tend to look generally positive. This first assumption is based on the amount of our designers which have achieved recognition not just nationally, as they should, but some also in worldwide media outlets and events. Take Deeply Personal, a high contemporary brand which in their deputing year had already gained recognition from Vogue Italy and achieved major success in the Asian region markets. Only two years into the brands existence, they have attained a high status not only in Latvia, but even more so internationally. However, this is not the case for most Latvian designers. Overviewing the firmas.lv top succeeding 25 fashion brands in Latvia, you can notice that there are no Latvian designers listed. In fact the only Latvian business that has made this list is R.D.A., which is one of the leading second-hand shop chains. Many designers admit that starting a brand in Latvia is easy, but maintaining it is on a much higher difficulty tier. Due to the average persons low salary and general lack of financial freedom in Latvia, it is nearly impossible to generate enough profit for a label to survive on its own, and it is unquestionably important to expand the clientele internationally. The problem does not lie in regional exposure, but in the fact that fashion is being marketed to a nation that can barely fund the progress of art.
Another point I’d like to shed light on is the fact that Latvian designers are generally focused on selling their designs, rather than creating artistic, avant-garde fashion. This is also understandable if your root consumers are based in Latvia. Designs are modelled to be as versatile and functional as possible, instead of trying to attain a certain standard of artistic expression. In my subjective opinion, the only truly artistic brand is Mareunrol’s, who famously created a long coat floating in the air, propped by a group of birds, as well as many other creative projects. My main criticism for Latvian design comes from attending Riga Fashion Week events. I notice, that though the design itself tends to stick to a certain level of good taste, they tend to be quite boring replicas of fashion trends debuted in New York Fashion Week from two seasons ago. This lack of creativity makes me uncomfortable and unsure about our future, as the only purpose this clothing serves is upper/middle class consumerist satisfaction. But I’d like to believe that the designers are not to blame, in fact, this is the smartest move to make in our current economy, as rarely anyone is able to afford great amounts of luxury. Therefore, commodities such as wearable art may only interest a handful of Latvian consumers. Many Latvian designers are also forced to become stylists in order to support their brand and produce a collection to show at RFW. In no other place in the world is this the case.And here lies the paradox of not creating high art due to lack of clients, yet at the same time not making it big internationally, by lack of creativity.
Overall, my observations and conclusions about the Latvian fashion industry are unfavourable, but that does not mean our future is hopeless. On the contrary, I imagine we are heading in the right direction — slowly and unsurely — but nevertheless undoubtably good things are to come. However, these good things are not achievable in our current economic situation; the truly great artists must shine and expand beyond Latvia before they can think of settling here. We are lucky to be living in an age where everything is connected, it is just a matter of time until Latvia pops up on the grid and acquires an international spotlight.